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“Decoding Annie Parker” – 5 Reasons Why You Should See This Movie

I love movies and going to them is a great escape from things like cancer, well, except when the movie is about cancer! Perhaps it seems odd to some, but I can’t seem to read enough books or see too many movies about this topic. Go figure, right?

As a BRCA+ person myself, I was particularly interested in seeing Steven Bernstein’s newly released film, Decoding Annie Parker. For reasons I’m getting to, this is an important movie, and not just for families like mine impacted by hereditary cancer.

I was fortunate to recently have the opportunity to view Decoding Annie Parker. Dear hubby watched it with me, at my nudging of course. When I watch cancer movies and TV shows about cancer, he takes on the role of “normal” person, acting as sort of a control group/person for my critiquing purposes. I’m always interested in his probably more unbiased points of view as the non-cancer person/thinker/reviewer.

For some brief background, Decoding Annie Parker is a movie set mostly in the 70’s and 80’s, chronicling the stories of two amazing women, Annie Parker, played convincingly by Samantha Morton and Dr. Mary-Claire King, again played convincingly by Helen Hunt. Annie’s family is plagued by hereditary cancer, though the medical community dismisses even entertaining this genetic connection possibility. Annie “knows” better and relentlessly digs for information to support her belief. Throughout the movie, Dr. King is working diligently as a scientific researcher to prove this connection between some breast cancers and genetics.

This is the first reason this movie is important; it’s about two women leading very different, but equally remarkable lives.

Reason number two is because it tells a story that needs telling, a successful research story, specifically, the story of the discovery of the BRCA 1 gene.

Today lives are being saved because of this discovery. It’s always important to remember that where we are today in regards to BRCA knowledge, as well as countless other medical breakthroughs, has not come without considerable effort, determination, research and yes, human heartache. This is exactly why this kind of story is inspiring and needs to be told.

The movie opens with the main character, Annie, and her sister trying to play quietly because their mother is ill. Yes, the mother dies from breast cancer. Annie was only 13 when her mother died. She grows up and gets married at the age of 19 to her pool-cleaner boyfriend, played by Aaron Paul. (By the way, dear hubby was very happy to learn that Aaron Paul was in the movie as dear hubby was/is a huge fan of Breaking Bad). A bit further into the movie, Annie’s sister is also diagnosed with breast cancer and yes, she dies as well.

Understandably, Annie begins to think about cancer – a lot. The story-line, and ultimately the eventual crumbling of her marriage, seem to imply she was obsessed with thinking about cancer. But in her situation, who wouldn’t be?

This movie is also a fine example of how every patient needs to self-advocate – reason number three.

Annie was relentless, or tried to be, despite the condescending attitudes of some of the male doctors in the movie. Along the same lines, Helen Hunt’s character faced some condescending attitudes herself while trying to move forward her research efforts in a male-dominated and yes, discriminatory environment. Yikes! We’ve come a long way, but it’s not like we still don’t have a long way to go… Again, it’s important to see where we’ve been here too.

Ultimately, Annie is diagnosed with breast cancer, too, and the movie handles this quite well, reason number four to give this movie a thumbs up.

Annie’s cancer experience is portrayed realistically, if doing such a thing is even possible in a movie. It was disappointing to see how Annie’s husband ultimately handled things, especially to dear hubby. But as we both acknowledged, being looked upon as no longer sexually attractive by one’s partner is reality for some women after breast surgery. Despite his considerable flaws, the husband was still likable (at least to me) and the couple never stopped caring deeply for one another.

Bottom line is, cancer can and often does do a number on relationships, and sometimes a partner cannot or does not handle things the way we all might hope. Again, reality. The movie showcased this quite well.

The two women finally meet up near the movie’s end and this was one of my favorite parts. The conversation the two women had in the scene, tied things together nicely I thought.

The movie concludes with giving kudos to King for her accomplishments and also insinuating that others would be making money on her discovery – which they did. Many of us are well aware how that all played out… Does the name Myriad ring a bell?

Personally, I would have liked to have learned more about the mother’s and the sister’s cancer experiences. Their cancer stories were too hurried for my liking, especially the sister’s. A movie about hereditary cancer that’s trying to focus on the impact of cancer on a family, should delve into this emotional aspect a bit more. But you know me and how I feel about sharing stories…

I also found the science aspect of the movie a bit lacking. I have a fair amount of basic knowledge about BRCA stuff, and yet I was confused at times during the Dr. King and her associates scenes, as I sat watching and trying to figure out what they were trying to tell us regarding the science. Dear hubby agreed. The road sign/gene markers analogy conversations didn’t really work well for me, but then again, I’m not the best with any kind of getting from point A to point B talk. Having said this, I loved Helen Hunt’s performance.

If you are part of a family affected by hereditary cancer of any kind, Decoding Annie Parker is a must see.

But even if you’re not, you should still see this movie because it showcases the incredible positive impact research can have on real lives. Answers always come through research someone believes in pursuing. It also serves as an important reminder that what these two women did mattered and what you and I do matters too. (reason number five)

In conclusion, this movie is well worth the effort to seek out and see for all the above reasons, plus it’s entertaining! It’s about a serious topic for sure, but there is a fair amount of humor blended in as well; a movie mix which doesn’t always work, but in this one it does. And yes, it is rated ‘R’, but it’s a pretty mild ‘R’.

I liked Decoding Annie Parker a lot and highly recommend it. 

Find a theater where it’s playing and go see this movie!


Click on the image to view the official movie trailer – used with permission.

Have you seen this movie?

Do you plan to?

Do you tend to watch or avoid cancer movies and TV shows?


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Liz Villa

Sunday 7th of September 2014

I saw this movie about a week ago, and pardon my language, but it scared the shit outta me. I lost my mom, her mom, her sister to cancer, so now I'm wondering if the gene runs in my family. I also lost my Dad and his parents to cancer too. My dad from esophageal cancer and my grandmother from stomach cancer. So yeah, it's in my family. It scares me. I'm terrified it'll happen to me too. I have two older sisters, and as far as I know, nothing's wrong with them. I really really *hope* it doesn't get me.


Thursday 11th of September 2014

Liz, Have you talked with your doctor about seeing a genetic counselor? There's a lot of cancer in your family, so it might be a good idea. Being proactive and learning more might tamp down a little of your fear. I hope you'll be fine too. Thanks for sharing.


Monday 19th of May 2014

Thank you, I really needed a few words of encouragement!


Monday 19th of May 2014

Hello Nancy, I recently came across your blog, and I thank you, it's been helpful to me. Last year my beautiful, happy, 31-year old wife was diagnosed with cancer, and all hell broke loose. Her cancer was an aggressive triple negative, grade 3 tumor. Mercifully, we caught it early and removed before it even reached the lymphnodes. Her treatment ended 6 months ago, and so far it seems she's "cured". I used quotes because she may be cured of the tumor, but the healing has only just begun.

Before cancer, we had been married 4 years, and together 11 years. We were happy, it's no exaggeration to say sometimes we were still as much in love as we were in the beginning. She's my best friend, the best person I know, and she turns me on like no other woman can.

Then the cancer came and wrecked all that.

I'm not really sure what happened, but I let her down. I didn't give her the comfort and support she needed, I wasn't understanding enough, patient enough. I was completely freaked out, I know I was supposed to keep that inside me and act like a strong, manly man that gave her strength and always knew what to do, but by god I couldn't. At 29, nothing in my somewhat limited life experience ever prepared me for something like that. To top it off, I suffer from depression, and her diagnosis made it flare up again.

I'm not sure exactly what she expected of me, I don't think she really does either (she told me as much), but I know I let her down and hurt her incredibly bad, and I'm now in very real danger of losing her. I believe she still loves me and wants to make us work, but something broke along the way that we have to try and rebuild. I think we'll make it, but god the thought of losing her, and and the guilt of having failed her so much, are killing me.

To make matter worse, our families are in Brazil but we currently live across the world in Norway, so when I didn't live up to her needs, she felt alone. Then another man stepped in. She's a master's student, and she thinks her thesis supervisor is in love with her. When she got cancer, he helped with her treatment, speeded things up (he's also a doctor) and made her feel safe in a way I didn't. And she thinks she may have developed feelings for him.

I resented that for a time. Must be nice to be the the superhero who only shows up to save the day, while I was the one at home who had to deal with all the crap. Like a child who's raised only by his nagging mother, and thinks his father, who only shows up to take him for ice cream, is so much cooler.

To be completely honest, I'm still a little resentful, but I'm a little more mature now, and I've realized he's not really the threat, and I don't think she's in love with him. He's a father figure (25 years older) who helped, supported and showered her with attention in her time of greatest need. She's incredibly grateful to him (rightly so) and obviously really liked what he offered her at the time, and I think she may have confused those feelings for something else. Of course, this could just be wishful thinking on my part, but she hints that this might be the case. One thing I know for sure: he's not the one threatening our future, we're the ones doing that, and only we have the power to do something about it.

Like many clueless non-cancer people, I was also under the illusion that once treatment was over and the side effects were off, our life would be "back to normal", to "the way it was". I now know that's not going to happen, and we need to accept that. She keeps talking about "the way things were", "it's not like before", everything is about "before", and I don't know how to help her look forward. I keep telling myself, and her, that the future will be different, but it doesn't mean it can't be good.

Or does it? I'd love to hear from some survivors. Am I kidding myself? Can we really expect a happy life after cancer? I'd like to think so, I do think so, and I see some people who seems to have achieved that, but when I talk to her and see just how depressed and pessimistic she is, my hope sinks.

I read some posts and comments in this blog about the expectation of "going back to normal", or the "new normal", and some commenters clearly resent that expectation, are tired of putting on the smiley face and pretending everything was just fine. Other say they can't help but feel "the other shoe is about to drop" sometimes.

But when has everything always been just fine all the time? When have we ever had our smiley face on all the time? When were we never grumpy or afraid? When have we never felt "the other shoe is about to drop" in other aspects of life? Because I seem to recall feeling all that way before cancer. Perhaps Cancer makes us romanticize a perfect "before" life that was never really that perfect.

Anyways, sorry for dumping all that in what's supposed to be a space for short comments. I guess what I was really looking for is some sort of reassurance, to hear from someone who has been through this that, even if there are no guarantees, it is possible to live a healthy, happy live after cancer, that it's not a waste of time to hope and fight for that.


Monday 19th of May 2014

Tiago, I'm sorry about all you are and have been dealing with. It's an awful lot. I am certainly in no position to advise you on any of this, but yes it is possible to live a happy live after cancer. It will be different, but it can be happy. There are no guarantees for any of us regarding long-term health, but cancer adds another whole dimension to our vulnerability. My best advice to you would be to take care of yourself too. Don't give up on your relationship - all of this will take considerable effort and commitment. Talk with a professional about all of these issues and go from there. Good luck to you. And thank you for reading and sharing about such personal matters.

Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

Saturday 17th of May 2014

[…] Nancy shares 5 reasons why you should see the movie Decoding Annie Parker. […]


Thursday 15th of May 2014

I'm another who usually stays away from "sad" cancer movies. But this was different for three reasons: 1. Annie survives. She is still alive today even after breast AND ovarian cancer. 2. It does show BRCA related ovarian cancer-- all too often forgotten in discussions of the "breast cancer" gene. 3. The benefits of BRCA's discovery continue. No longer just for assessing a woman's risk, there are many treatment therapies now that have better outcomes for the BRCA+ patient. Knowing one's status is even more important post-diagnosis.


Friday 16th of May 2014

Carey, Oh, I love your additional reasons and you're so right about ovarian cancer too often being forgotten in the discussions of yes, the breast cancer genes. I hear you. Thank you for reading, commenting and sharing.

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